Monarchies in Africa can be categorized into two, sovereign or absolute monarchies and sub-traditional monarchies. Sovereign monarchies are kings who rule over the state with absolute political power while sub-traditional monarchies are kings ruling and controlling subjects in communities, towns, chiefdoms or kingdoms without absolute power.
Before now in Africa, kings had absolute power but colonisation, the advent of democracy and incursion of the military into politics as well as the desire of the people for liberty have eroded their powers and pushed them into the background.
However, in Africa and indeed in several parts of the world, kings still reign majestically due to their connection with tradition and as custodian of the history and culture of their people. Out of the fifty-four countries in Africa today, only three monarchies have maintained monarchical significance and remain as head of state or government. They rule with fiat and possess unmatchable wealth in Morocco, Lesotho and Swaziland.
While it is difficult to know the exact number of kings in Africa; it is safe to assume that the number of kings is directly proportional to the number of communities and tribes all over the nooks and crannies of Africa.
In Nigeria, the western part of Africa alone, there are more than 2000 kings bestriding the landscape. In history, African kings played a part either positively or negatively in the colonization, decolonization and independence of countries in Africa and till today, the people of Africa still hold them in great awe or suspense.
But, while other countries have moved on from the total control of monarchies, Morocco, Lesotho and Swaziland kings still wield enormous powers and international clout. What has been the staying power of these monarchies in their countries in spite of unrelenting opposition against them?
Morocco is reputed to be one of the biggest economies in Africa and unlike Lesotho or Swaziland; the Kingdom of Morocco as officially called is fairly prosperous and quite connected with notable international organisations. King Mohammad VI of Morocco ascended the throne in 1999 and wields considerable executive and legislative powers. He also possesses major stakes in foreign affairs, the military and religious matters.
King Mohammad is popular in Morocco as he is a little bit liberal, friendly with international firms and positioning Morocco as an investment spot. But corruption, lack of fiscal discipline and curtailment of freedom of expression are challenges the Moroccan people have to grapple with.
Analysts agree that Morocco continues to enjoy such stability because of ‘tactical awareness’ of the leadership. Morocco might remain a monarchical state for a long time as long as poverty is addressed. It is not difficult to explain thus why Morocco escaped the change in leadership guard during the Arab spring.
Lesotho is a confederation of African tribes and a constitutional monarchy in the Southern part of Africa ruled by King Letsie III who ascended the throne some twenty-two years ago. Unlike Morocco and Swaziland, but like Japan in Asia or Belgium in Europe, the powers of the king in Lesotho are largely ceremonial, not absolute.
Poverty is deeply entrenched in Lesotho and the standard of living is significantly low. These are apart from other national challenges including unemployment and the debilitating effects of HIV/AIDs. The country rates among the highest infected in the world.
Rt. Hon Motsoahae Thomas Thabane is the Prime Minister who is the head of government and leader of the All Bathoso Convention (ABC), a political party. Since Lesotho is a parliamentary monarchy and the king is non-partisan in political activities, the people cannot clearly lay any blame of underdevelopment at the door of King Letsie and since the monarchy is largely friendly, the king can remain as long as he wants in the Kingdom.
The Kingdom of Swaziland offers an interesting insight into what an absolute monarchy or sovereign monarchy can do in Africa. King Mswati III, who ascended the throne of his father since 1986, reigns in Swaziland with absolute political and military authority. There’s not so much good news about Swaziland’s economy as the economy is struggling and the country didn’t inherit many mineral resources which could have helped.
Swaziland also boasts of a high prevalence of HIV/Aids. The political system is equally facing a trying time. Unemployment, clamp down on civil rights activists, are some other challenges facing the country. In spite of all these, Swaziland has a beautiful landscape; a traditional culture that is the envy of others and apart from pockets of crime, the country remains largely peaceful. What more, the women are extraordinarily beautiful and the mighty king did amass close to fifteen to himself, with more to come in the future.
The monarchies in Morocco, Lesotho and Swaziland’s staying power can be located in the wisdom expressed by Samuel Huntington in his book, “The Kings Dilemma.” Adel Ghafar and Anna Jacobs noted this in an article “Morocco: The Kings Dilemma,” where they highlighted a key problem monarchs face: how to liberalize without losing control.
Huntington believed that the monarch could either “attempt to maintain his authority by continuing to modernize but intensify the repression necessary to keep control,” or transform his monarchy into a constitutional monarchy where “the king reigns but does not rule”. African sovereign monarchies have used this idea a great deal but would this be enough for the future?